Degree Date


Document Type

Dissertation - Public Access

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Academic Discipline

Adult and Continuing Education

First Advisor

Elizabeth A. Peterson

Second Advisor

Thomas Heaney

Third Advisor

Stephen D. Brookfield and Vanessa Sheared


This was a phenomenological study of racial privilege as experienced by White people who have struggled to become more racially aware and socially active in dismantling racism and White privilege. The primary conceptual framework for this study was Critical Race Theory with Transformative Learning theory and Racial Identity Development as additional theoretical lenses. The purpose of this study was to increase our awareness of how White people come to understand their racial privilege and what change in behavior occurs as a result of that increased awareness. Its goal was to promote and influence White adult educators to find explicit ways in which to address White privilege and racism in adult education settings.

There were seven participants in this study. These were White adults who could articulate their understanding of White privilege and were willing to share those critical incidents that led to an increased consciousness about that privilege. The findings of the study revealed seven common experiences among these participants. Each began an understanding of privilege through a Black/White binary and had limited contact with people of Color growing up. They had self-constructed a deep reflective process, learned empathy, and their growth and development was a continuous process. Each struggled with their intention to not be racist when in fact they could not help but act in racist ways. In addition, each experienced many critical incidents that were transformative in nature. Within these incidents, common elements emerged that contributed to and influenced their growth and development in their understanding of racial privilege. More importantly and perhaps surprisingly, these elements did not exist in isolation. Instead, there seemed to be a convergence of these elements that, when combined, fostered growth. These elements included: 1) a critical incident that challenged the participants previous assumptions; 2) a mentor-type relationship with a person of Color; 3) moral or ethical anguish or regret; and 4) a relational nature and deep commitment to the growth of themselves and others.